More than 150,000 food boxes have been delivered to those most in need since the Department for Communities launched its COVID-19 Food Parcel Service in April.
The £6.3million emergency service, in partnership with local councils and voluntary and community organisations, was initially set up by the then Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic for a period of 12 weeks to support those who are most vulnerable in this crisis.
This support enables a weekly box of goods to be delivered directly to the door of vulnerable people who have been notified to shield by their GPs, who cannot access food through online shopping, family, friends or local support networks. These boxes have also been available to those who are not shielding, but are in critical need of food.
As part of the transition from an emergency response, Minister Hargey had decided to invest £1.5million in an extension to the food parcel programme beyond 26 June for those currently receiving a food box who have been asked to shield by their GPs and have no other help to access food.
Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, who will now oversee the service as it transitions, said: “I want to thank everyone in the department, councils and voluntary and community organisations who have contributed to the success of the initiative, which has seen 150,084 food boxes delivered to those in need over the past 10 weeks.
“I am delighted this vital service will continue for those who are receiving a food box and shielding as advised by their GP – those who can’t get out to get food and are unable to get food in because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to Advice NI for managing the COVID-19 Community Helpline. This has been a vital resource that has ensured people who are in critical need have received the right support in the midst of this health emergency.”
Those people who are shielding and have previously registered their need for a food box through the COVID-19 Community Helpline will automatically continue to receive a food box until 31 July.
Anyone shielding who has not previously registered through the COVID-19 Community Helpline should contact the helpline now to register. This will enable them to talk to their local health trust and facilitate continued delivery of a food box until 31 July.
Those not shielding and who still need help to access food beyond June 26 are advised to call the COVID-19 Community Helpline on 0808 802 0020, text ACTION to 81025, or email [email protected] to be matched to the right local help that best meets their needs.
The department in conjunction with its community partners will signpost people to other ways in which they can access food including:
– Priority online shopping deliveries for those shielding with the large supermarkets
– Delivery services from a range of local shops
– Volunteers to assist with delivering shopping
– Local support through voluntary and community sector organisations
The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the issue of food poverty with an estimated 75% of those receiving the department’s weekly food parcels being from economically vulnerable households.
As a result, the Minister had also approved an additional investment of more than £875,000, which will allow the department to use the services of Fareshare, a national network of charitable food redistributors to improve the supply and distribution of food.
Further details on this and other initiatives to support those experiencing food poverty will be announced in the coming weeks.
Minister Ní Chuilín added: “The impact of COVID-19 has exasperated the situation for those who are struggling financially and we will continue to work with our Executive colleagues to develop a long-term solution for those most in need.”